Although legends the likes of A. J. Foyt, Rick Mears, Al Unser and Mario Andretti have raced there, it has been since 1989 that an open-wheel race occurred at Pocono Raceway.
But on this July 4th holiday weekend, the IZOD IndyCar Series returns to Pocono with drivers like Marco Andretti, Dario Franchitti and Takuma Sato, who hope to add their names to the list of winners at the track known as the ‘Tricky Triangle.’
“So far, so good,” Marco Andretti, driver of the No. 25 RC Cola Chevrolet for Andretti Autosport, said after the first test session at Pocono. “I have to give credit to IndyCar for the aero and Firestone for the tire choice.”
Andretti, a third generation racer who considers this is ‘home’ track, will make his first start at Pocono and his 125th career start.
Although Andretti admits that he does go to his grandfather for advice, especially with his familiarity with the ‘tricky’ track, he said that this time he had to make it his own.
“At this level of the sport, we have to learn by driving,” Andretti said. “My grandfather is supportive…but only if I’m quickest.”
Andretti said that so far the triangle has been a bit ‘tricky’ from his perspective. But he is loving every minute of it, at least so far.
“The trickiest part is getting the balance between turns one and three,” Andretti said. “You can make the car good in one corner and then not the others.”
“That’s the cool part about this track.”
Fellow competitor Dario Franchitti, driver of the No. 10 Energizer for Target Chip Ganassi Racing, echoed Andretti’s excitement at racing returning to Pocono, in spite of being on ‘Scotland time.’ He had been up bright and early at 6:00 am at Pocono after visiting his homeland for a weekend of rest and relaxation.
“It’s great to be here at Pocono,” Franchitti said. “It’s a great rack.”
“These cars are bloody quick right here.”
Franchitti also agreed with Andretti that the triangle is a bit tricky, especially trying to negotiate the three very different corners.
“It’s a tough place to figure out,” Franchitti said. “The tunnel turn – I don’t know what it will be like with ten cars in front of me.”
“But I really hope there will not be ten cars in front of me.”
Franchitti admitted that his season has been one of struggles, both on the road courses and the ovals. And when one of the media followed up with a question about his brief stint in NASCAR, Franchitti said that was equally as painful as his season so far.
“I went to the dentist and had work without anesthesia and I broke my back,” Franchitti said. “It was less painful than NASCAR.”
“This season has been tough,” Franchitti continued. “We haven’t got it together on road courses and we have struggled on the ovals.”
“We went down the wrong development path with parts and it’s been a difficult year so far.”
Takuma Sato, driving the No. 14 for A.J. Foyt Racing, echoed the excitement of his fellow drivers in making his first appearance ever at Pocono Raceway. And he even had an opportunity to enjoy the beautiful scenery on his way into the track.
“I’m very excited to be at Pocono,” Sato said. “It’s always interesting to be in a new venue, especially with the long history here.”
“On the way to the track, it took me a half hour but it’s a nice drive,” Sato continued. “I like the nature.”
Sato agreed with his fellow competitors that the three-cornered race track is indeed one of the most ‘tricky’ that he has ever experienced.
“It’s quite a challenging track,” Sato said. “Quite tricky in Turn One.”
“It took me awhile to get the right lines and figure out how to do it.”
“Turns One and Three are challenging for both the driver and the engineers,” Sato said. “By myself I’m doing a good job but I’m not sure about in the pack.”
“There is a huge balance shift between those two conditions.”
Like Andretti, Sato has a mentor who has vast knowledge of the track in A.J. Foyt. So, did he garner any advice from him prior to taking to the track at the ‘Tricky Triangle?’
“We talked about it knowing he is a master here,” Sato said of his mentor and owner Foyt. “But it’s a different time.”
“He did give me tips about setting up the car,” Sato continued. “I’ll speak to him later today and tomorrow.”
Sato was also incredibly analytical when it came to breaking down each of the three turns at the ‘Tricky Triangle.’
“Turn One is like Fontana because of the banking and that you have to go through all the seams,” Sato said. “In Turn Two, you have to be careful because it is easy and flat.”
“Turn Two is like a little kink for me and there is no need to count it as a corner,” Sato continued. “Turn Three is Milwaukee-style, with no banking and a high speed.”
“There is a sensation of the cars that feels weird and challenging too,” Sato said. “It is a good corner.”
Two of the three drivers were also asked to react to another change just announced by INDYCAR race director Beaux Barfield, the return of the three-wide start to the race. So, what did they think of that change?
Marco Andretti definitely had some thoughts on the three-wide start, the types of which have been utilized for the Indy 500 since 1921 and also at Pocono Raceway in the 1970s and 1980s for the ‘triple crown’ legs.
“That one is really for the fans,” Andretti said. “I’m all about tradition so I love it.”
“I’m just hoping we can get it sorted out by Turn One.”
Dario Franchitti agreed that the three-wide race start may be quite interesting at the ‘Tricky Triangle.’
“Three wide won’t be an issue at first because it’s so wide,” Franchitti said. “But Turn One narrows up quickly, so that will be the tricky part.”
Probably the driver with the highest expectations placed upon him at the ‘Tricky Triangle’, however, is hometown ‘son’ and hero Marco Andretti. While he feels a win would be spectacular at his home track, he really just wants to get that ‘W’ in the worst way.
“The monkey is on my back anyway for a win,” Andretti said. “We’re on the right track.”
“But a win here would be extra special.”